Deadly Street Battles Raged Across Egypt

More than 50 people are dead after security forces and Islamist protesters clashed. Supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and backers of the military that deposed him poured into the streets and turned on each other. Sunday's death toll was the highest on a single day since Aug. 14 when security forces raided two sit-in protest camps by Morsi supporters, killing hundreds.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Egypt, yesterday was supposed to be a day of flag-waving, flyovers, and patriotic celebrations of the armed forces. But the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war instead turned into a bloody showdown. Street violence left more than 50 people dead and hundreds injured. The day highlighted Egypt's divide, pitting supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi against those backing the army, which forced him from power in July. NPR's Leila Fadel has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In Tahrir Square, supporters of the military celebrated an annual event meant to honor Egypt's armed forces. People heading to the square honked car horns and played the pro-military song: Bless your hands, bless the military of my country. But nearby, supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood protested, as they have on and off for more than three months now despite attempts by the state to stop their marches. But this time, they tried to go to Tahrir, and the clashes began.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

FADEL: The marchers in the capital were confronted by security forces and some armed civilians. In one Cairo district, gunfire rang out, and security forces fired volleys of teargas as protesters threw rocks.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

FADEL: People cheered as armed, plainclothes men dragged suspected pro-Morsi protesters to a police station. And by the end of the night, more than 400 people had been arrested - mostly Morsi supporters - and accused of instigating riots. The day's violence raised questions about whether Egypt's military-backed government can secure this divided nation. It has tried to quash opposition since Morsi was ousted from power. People are being arrested now if they're even suspected of being connected to the Islamist organization. And the military is doing this while riding a wave of public support. Many Egyptians blame the Brotherhood for causing the unrest.

The protests were the latest attempt by Islamist supporters of Morsi to bolster their numbers and find support among some parts of the army and other Egyptians. They seem to be failing. In a statement last week, the so-called Anti-Coup Alliance called for protests to remind the army of the difference between the enemy and its people. In response, Egypt's interim president called for people to fill every square in the country.

ESSAM ABDELMAGUID: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Just outside Tahrir Square, Essam AbdelMaguid heeded that call.

ABDELMAGUID: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says: I came out here to support our great army against the Brotherhood. It's breathing its final gasps, and its threats are empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS, CHEERS)

FADEL: And as street battles ensued, dignitaries, officers and the political elite attended a ceremony at a military stadium in Cairo to commemorate the anniversary.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GEN. ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The head of the army, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who's been touted as Egypt's savior, addressed the nation. He reminded Egyptians that it was their protests back in June and July that gives the army the mandate to protect their will.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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